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“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist” is the opening line of Tayari Jones’s compelling third novel, SILVER SPARROW, which has been included in O Magazine's Favorite Things for 2011, Library Journal's and Atlanta Magazine's Top Ten Best Books of 2011, and the best books of the year at slate.com and salon.com. Her story of a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle has drawn wide praise, including this from Jayne Anne Phillips: “Jones is a master, and Silver Sparrow is a revelation, alive with meaning, heartbreak, and hope.” Anita Shreve in the Washington Post praised what she considers “one of literature’s most intriguing extended families,” and Pearl Cleage wrote, “With this novel, Jones has found her own dazzlingly original voice.” Jones spent the 2011–12 academic year as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard, received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for 2012, and is presently Associate Professor in the MFA Program at Rutgers University.
Jones was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and much of her writing centers on the urban South. “Although I now live in the Northeast,” she explains, “my imagination lives in Atlanta.” Her first novel, Leaving Atlanta, a coming-of-age story set against the city’s infamous African American child murders of 1979–81, won the Hurston/Wright Award for debut fiction. Her second novel, The Untelling, about a family struggling to overcome the aftermath of a fatal car accident, received the Lillian C. Smith Book Award from the Southern Regional Council and the University of Georgia Libraries. Upon the publication of SILVER SPARROW, the Village Voice wrote, “Tayari Jones is fast defining black middle-class Atlanta the way that Cheever did for Westchester.”
Jones is a graduate of Spelman College (BA), the University of Iowa (MA), and Arizona State University (MFA). While at Spelman, she met the then president, Johnetta Cole, who had heard that she was a writer and asked her, “How’s the writing?” “It was like someone had touched me with a magic wand, and I started taking my writing more seriously,” Jones says. She has since taught writing at several universities and was recently honored at Rutgers with awards for scholarly excellence and teaching excellence and a Leader in Faculty Diversity Award. She has also volunteered for a number of mentoring organizations and is on the board of Girls Write Now, which matches teenage girls with writing mentors. She blogs on writing at www.tayarijones.com.
Jones has spoken at over 150 colleges and universities, libraries, writers’ conferences, and literary series all over the country. Her appeal to audiences and readers alike lies not only in her rich literary skills and her talent for witty dialogue but in her ability to channel the lives of ordinary young women crossing into adulthood. “I am able to tap into my own inner-girl,” she says, and readers can identify with her characters dealing with difficult family situations, trying to get boys to notice them, overcoming feelings of being invisible. “Literary concerns and social issues are important to me, but I also want my readers to enjoy themselves, and to have that instant shock of identification when they meet my characters.”
- Silver Sparrow: A Bigamist's Family and Secret Sisters
- Changing Lives: Mentoring Young Writers
- Historical Memory as a Source of Inspiration for Writers